Saturday, 27 October 2001

Leading suspect stays away as £8m drugs seized at port

By Tom Brady

Saturday October 27 2001
A SURVEILLANCE operation by Garda and Customs officers on a container with an £8m consignment of herbal cannabis was called off yesterday after a key figure in an international drug trafficking ring failed to show.

Customs officers moved in yesterday morning and seized the 40-foot container which had arrived at Dublin port on a ship from Antwerp on Tuesday.

The container was kept under watch as detectives hoped to trap a suspect alleged to be planning to transport most of the consignment to Britain.

But the operation was eventually abandoned and Customs officers announced their biggest single seizure of herbal cannabis.

This was the third consignment of the drug to have been smuggled into Dublin port in the past eight weeks.

This one originated in Pretoria in South Africa and went to Antwerp before being shipped to Dublin in pallets hidden among a shipment of dried prunes and sultanas.

A small portion of the shipment may have been designed for the home market where the drug is favoured by ethnic groups because of its potency but the traffickers were mainly using Dublin as a transit point for the British market.

High quality herbal cannabis is reckoned to be twice as potent as cannabis resin and has become more popular with regular users.

An initial shipment of three and a half tonnes of herbal was intercepted by Customs eight weeks ago but in consultation with the Garda national drugs unit it was decided to keep the consignment under watch while it was shipped to Britain where six people, including two Irishmen, were arrested.

A further shipment of one tonne was seized here a month ago and a man was arrested in connection with the find.

This resulted in increased co-operation with the South African authorities in an effort to pinpoint the trafficking gang behind the trail to Dublin.

Yesterday's consignment totalled slightly under four tonnes, or 3,992 kilos, which was valued by Customs at £14m but gardai estimated it was worth about £8m on the streets in Britain.

Customs said one man had been arrested but gardai said they had nobody in custody in connection with yesterday's find.

The initial plan was to put surveillance on the shipment at the port while gardai tried to link a suspect to the shipment.

Detectives said last night an investigation was on-going but it was thought that the traffickers had "gone to ground" following the announcement of the find.

The seizure was attributed by Customs officers to a combination of intelligence and profiling techniques.

The three seizures provided the latest evidence that South African smuggling gangs are using this country as a gateway to Britain as well as supplying the local market.

Irish links to the traffickers have been established in the past by detectives and surveillance on flight patterns at Dublin airport have resulted in the seizure of more than 40 smaller shipments of herbal quantities following the arrest of South African suspects.

Inquiries also revealed close connections with trafficking gangs in Britain, particularly in relation to herbal cannabis which is more popular there than here although detectives estimate it will become more prevalent here in coming months and its use will no longer be confined to the ethnic communities.

- Tom Brady